Glasheen’s work is unique. It combines exquisite draughtsmanship, precise painting skills, allegorical references and a fascination with the extraordinary Garigal rock art of Kuringai Chase National Park. Unusually for a septuagenarian, there’s also a hearty embrace of virtual reality technology that transforms his massive “paintings” into a 3-D immersive fly-through.
This weekend’s “benefit exhibition” of Glasheen’s most recent works (with price tags ranging from a few hundred dollars to $30,000) doesn’t include VR paraphernalia.
Gemes (“Mick’s one of my oldest friends and I still dearly care for him”) and her co-curator, indigenous art specialist Adrian Newstead (“Mick’s art taps into spiritually profound aspects of the Bush”) had just a month to assemble a show to help pay for the care Glasheen needs to continue working.
A handsome man even a few years ago – with long grey hair and even longer grey beard like a Gandalf at a Comic Con party – Glasheen is being nourished by a Tibetan breakfast as the interview begins.
Understandably, he’s frail, softly spoken and considered in his short-of-breath answers. Except once. How accurate are your depictions of the ingenious Garigal rock art, he’s asked. “Bloody accurate!” he whispers as loudly as he can.
Born in 1942 of Irish/Welsh stock, Glasheen went through an epiphany on that first encounter with indigenous culture at Uluru. For the past 25 years, he’s explored NSW’s multiple sites left by the nation’s original artists. His guides were aboriginal elders, who trusted him to translate their creation stories.
But Glasheen’s works come with a twist. There are many references to non-Indigenous thinkers from Plato and Pythagoras to Leonardo and Albrecht Durer.
Take Emu in the Milky Way. Glasheen travelled with a photographer to the Blue Mountains to capture the night sky void known to aboriginal astronomers as the dark emu. In Glasheen’s completed 3.5 metre wide work, the dark emu is photoshopped over a “bloody accurate” rendition of the emu carving at Elvina rock plateau.
For 25 years, Glasheen sold his art outdoors (“in a park you can create your own exhibition space”). He was in hospital when Manly Art Gallery & Museum ran the first Glasheen retrospective in a public gallery last December.
“But I’m not going to miss this one,” Glasheen says forcefully. “It’s the first time my work will ever have been shown properly in the city.”
Michael Glasheen, Drawing on the Land: Garigal Country. Cooee Gallery (Paddington), June 27-30